Look beyond Union Park’s facade, and you’ll find a neighborhood bar.
Upscale without being Uptown. that’s how Union Park managing partner Chris Raymer describes his new downtown “gastro bar.” He’s pretty much on the money.
The upscale part is obvious from the street, so shiny spiff is the exterior. Inside, the bar has a polished wood ceiling, comfy booths, a bar made of urbane concrete. It’s dark in a way that I’d expect from a club, an old-school men’s club with scotch and cigars. But the scotch-and-cigars darkness is paired with a visual glibness. There are strips of artificial turf running along the banquettes.
A large section of the back room is essentially a living room, with a TV that may well be better than yours. The big black couches can host two parties of 10 or so. They create one of the more homey spaces I’ve seen for hanging out, a stark distinction from the concrete bar. A pool table is tucked back here, too, and smokers can head back up to the front and out the doors to the patio area facing Main Street—and the more rumpled, full of character City Tavern across the street. In fact, in many ways, Union Park feels like the inverse of City Tavern, slick and cool and sporty versus low-key and cool and funky.
Union Park is owned by Nhat Ngo and Jose Quiroga—known as a DJ and for his clubs (Mantis, Vice, and Cameo). And there’s a DJ booth alongside the many sit-and-eat booths. Given that, it would be easy to
expect club crowds every night. But two trips—one on a Sunday for a Cowboys game and one on a Wednesday night—proved otherwise.
The Sunday night game was against Atlanta, and there were a surprising number of Falcons fans sitting on the couches. The waitresses wore Cowboys jerseys and hot pants, and overall the mood was reasonably subdued, like the Sunday after a big Saturday night. An in-shape man with impeccably waxed eyebrows nursed a beer not far from us, hugging a waitress or two as they walked by. Some young indies sat a few tables down from us, and I saw at least one hipster nerdy guy there on both the Sunday and the Wednesday. A baby-faced twentysomething guy who looked like he knew how to code in multiple languages was on a (7th? 12th?) date and drinking a Corona-rita. Another guy had hoops in his stretched ears—the lobes pulled and stretched around jewelry, a kind of body art I would have expected to see more at City Tavern than Union Park. And this is where it seemed like Raymer’s comment was really on the mark: the place is upscale (the burgers are infused with bacon rather than merely covered in it), but as befits downtown, the young crowd was mixed.
Partly that may be because of the food. Raymer mentioned that they’ve sold far more food than they expected. The menu is burger-heavy. The 12-ounce Angus burgers are enormous (Wednesdays, they’re only $4). Homemade gumbo is available on Sundays, and lobster corn dogs are there every day. So people who live downtown and want a little upscale comfort food can wander in. At the same time, they can watch a game and have a drink. A number of the draft beers are local, and if you like pomegranate or pink watermelon/cucumber in your drink, your needs will be met. We skipped the fancy cocktails and Champagne in favor of beer (Rahr and Real Ale) and, later, a sturdy Bulleit bourbon and Coke. I’m sure a French 75 (Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne and Tanqueray) would be in order on a Friday night with the girls, but a beer was better suited to the game and Sunday night gumbo.
I’ve never been much of a club girl, but the physical space at Union Park reminded me of those few clubs I’ve been to. The patio, the front bar area that feels traditionally barlike, the cozy booths in the middle space, the DJ booth, the living room area—all of it sleek and upscale. None of which was as interesting as the twentysomething enjoying Sunday dinner with his girl and the unbidden hope this gives me for downtown.
DALLAS OBSERVER FOOD BLOG / FIRST LOOK
Union Park, New Gastro Pub on Main Street in
Downtown is One Friendly Lounge
Union Park opened at 1311 Main St. in downtown last week — or maybe it was two weeks ago. I’m not exactly sure, but last night I scored a metered parking spot just down the block, which is free after 6 p.m., so I was able to check it out and avoid circling the block nine times and the $8 valet.An arched stone entrance frames the entrance to Union Park, and large pillars on each side look very something-century and noble. The huge all-glass doorway and “UP” logo with the Affliction treatment is a modern contrast.
Inside the place has been completely remodeled. I’m not sure what it looked like before, but all the woodwork, art, lighting and exposed concrete oozes lots of money. It’s dark, rustic, modern, sleek and fake (they use artificial turf here and there for décor) all at the same time.
On this particular Thursday evening the crowd was a mix of friends of the owners (presumably), out-of-towners staying at nearby hotels and a few downtown workers. I think there was a bachelor party up front. Almost every seat in the place was taken.
First of all, the staff is extremelynice. Almost every server, host, manager, owner or what-have-you who walked past asked if I needed something else to drink or eat. If I didn’t want anything, they were almost worried, like a mom whose kid won’t eat breakfast, “What’s wrong? Please tell me. I’m here for you.”
My particular waitress would walk to my table, stand there for two seconds and just smile … then quietly go forth with whatever question. No rush, just chill. I almost offered her a seat.
Even the customers are nice. I thought I got locked in the bathroom because the doorknob is just a dummy (on the inside). So, I unlocked the bolt, but the doorknob wouldn’t turn. After almost dislocating my shoulder trying to force it to turn, I panicked and started shaking the heavy wooden door violently (the place was loud, I didn’t think they’d ever hear me). A customer just simply pulled the door open for me and said, “I’m here to save you. It’s OK. The same thing just happened to me earlier. It’s a tricky door.”So, party tip: Just push the door open from the inside. Never mind that doorknob that you think is jammed.There’s not really a formal dining room at UP. It’s all very bar-loungey. There’s a separate room in the back that is the formal “lounge” with large “U” shaped couch and a TV display in front. There’s also one communal table with about 20 seats around it. A Golden Tee game (I’m pretty sure) was tucked way back in a corner.
The bar is stocked with about 30 beers on tap and the entire backside of the large menu is full of specialty drinks and concoctions. Rob Roy, Horse’s Neck, watermelon cucumber rita, strawberry mint julep: It’s everywhere.
The food is upscale bar fare. Big fat 12-ounce Angus beef burgers come in 11 different flavors: bacon cheddar, Swiss and mushroom, cowboy, border, ranch-hand and the like. The people at the table next to mine from Pennsylvania had an amazing-looking chicken-fried steak sandwich served on a huge ciabatta bun.
Starters include wings, lobster corn dogs, fried mac and cheese bites, Southern spinach dip, fried portobella mushrooms, ultimate cheese fries, and fried pickles and green beans. Entrees offered are chicken and waffles, chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken and fish and chips.
Music ranged from Janet Jackson to Tom Petty to Depeche Mode. They’re just shooting it straight down the fairway there (I suppose). The Rangers and Olympics played on about 10 different televisions.
I wish I had more pictures, but it is so hard to take pictures in a dark bar with people who may or may not want to have their photos taken. Just imagine … it’s swank and sporty. The food looks great. So do most of the guests. There are plenty of televisions should you need the distraction. If you’re in the area, give it a shot.
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